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Dark Circles Under the Eyes

Q: I'm only 48, but I have such dark circles under my eyes that I look much older. Sometimes store clerks give me a senior citizen discount without asking my age! I've tried numerous prescription and OTC creams, compresses, and herbal remedies, but the circles keep getting darker. Someone suggested it might be fluid leaking from eyes and into the area. Is that true, and can you help?

Dr. Donnica:
There are many causes of dark circles under your eyes. The good news is that while they are cosmetically undesirable, they are generally medically harmless and don't necessarily indicate any serious medical problems. They can occur as a result of fatigue, a developing illness, or significant weight loss. Allergy sufferers are also frequently affected.

The discolorations are the result of engorged blood vessels around your eyes. Dark circles under the eyes tend to run in families or result from aging. While you can't do anything to change those factors, there are some things you can do to try to change your appearance. While it sounds like you've tried several remedies, perhaps you missed one of these. First, applying cold compresses for 10 to 15 minutes at a time may help constrict the underlying blood vessels and make the skin appear lighter.

If allergies are the culprit, allergy medication may be helpful, but only if you get rid of the offending cause. The most common allergens are pet dander, house dust, pollen, and various foods. However, you may also be allergic to or irritated by a dye in one of your cosmetics. Various cosmetics are hypoallergenic or specifically designed to cover up dark circles (e.g. Clinique Continuous Cover or Dermablend).

Fluid retention can also cause puffiness under the eyes that may cast shadows. If this is part of the problem, and your doctor has already cleared you of medical conditions that may cause fluid retention (e.g. heart, thyroid, kidney and liver problems, or high blood pressure), ask if any medications you are taking may be worsening the situation. Try cutting salt intake or sleeping with extra pillows to let gravity fight the pooling of liquid.

Created: 1/10/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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